By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Noel Coward's delectable Private Lives, now at the Walnut Street Theatre, is what every rom-com aspires to be: laugh-out-loud funny, sexy, rambunctious, and complete with a happy ending preceded by bad behavior. Here are characters whose dialogue is clever and naughty as opposed to their contemporary versions who often seem dopey and vulgar. The play requires that everyone be veddy veddy English, knowing all the while that it is all veddy veddy.
Here's the set-up: Amanda (Kathleen Wallace) and Elyot (Greg Wood) have been divorced for five years after a tempestuous three years of marriage. Amanda has just wed Victor (Dan Hodge) and Elyot has just wed Sibyl (Lauren Sowa).
Well, doncha know, they wind up honeymooning at the same hotel in France in adjoining rooms. During the play's famous first act balcony scene, directed to perfection by Bob Carlton, their passion for each other is rekindled. Amanda and Elyot ditch their sweet but tedious new spouses and flee to Paris where a French maid (Clare O'Malley) despairs of these people who manage to wreck the place in one evening.
Although the second act feels overlong and repetitious, the third act returns to the knockabout elegance of Act One, and the show sends us out having had a delightful evening.
Here's a sample of Coward's self-mocking dialogue:
AMANDA: I've been brought up to believe that it's beyond the pale for a man to strike a woman.
ELYOT: A very poor tradition. Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.
The cast is a pleasure to watch. Greg Wood is looking exceedingly fit and wearing a Robert Redford lookalike wig. Kathleen Wallace is one of those beautiful women who is superb with physical comedy, willing to make herself look ridiculous. Dan Hodge is, simply, adorable, creating a caricature of an earnest dolt in houndstooth plus fours worthy of a Punch cartoon.
Robert Koharchik designed the two stunning sets, giving us first the hotel balconies and then a glamorous Paris apartment with its view of the Eifel Tower; they are beautifully lit by Stuart Duke.
Walnut Street Theatre, 9th & Walnut Sts. Through March 1. Tickets $24.75 – 72.25 Information 215-574-3550 or WalnutStreetTheatre.org.